Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

‘Forceful’ steam tug at 98 quandary for QMMA

Almost $1 million on repairs and maintenance has been spent on the aged tug. (Supplied: Queensland Maritime Museum).

Antonia O’Flaherty, Brisbane River’s 98yo tugboat Forceful to be dismantled, recycled as maintenance costs bite, ABC Radio Brisbane, 13 February 2023

Queensland’s last coal-fired steam tugboat will be scrapped in two months as the cost of renting land to store it and maintenance costs reach hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Key points:

  • The tug launched in 1925 and was operational until 2006, largely on the Brisbane River
  • After several years on display in the Brisbane River, it has now been kept in at a shipyard
  • The Queensland Maritime Museum Association can’t afford to store the ship anymore

Earlier this year the Queensland Maritime Museum Association (QMMA) board determined it could no longer afford the maintenance and fees for keeping the boat, named Forceful, at The Yard in Murarrie.

The association said it had approached landowners about storing the Forceful while it could find alternative options but had been unsuccessful.

While the association is still hoping to find another solution, it has approached a company to dismantle and recycle the ship in April or May.

Forceful outside the Queensland Maritime Museum at South Brisbane. (Supplied: Peter Collins).

Brisbane River home since 1920s

The historical significance of the Forceful began 98 years ago when the steam tugboat was built by Alexander Stephen & Sons Ltd in Glasgow and launched in late 1925.

The vessel arrived in Brisbane in March 1926 and operated for the most part in the Brisbane River for four decades.

The Forceful towing passenger steamship Orungal up the Brisbane River in 1935. (Supplied: State Library of Queensland).

Just months after its arrival, it sailed near Heron Island to the aid of another ship, the Cooma, which had been stranded on the North Reef in July.

And later the same year, the Forceful sailed to Cairns to assist with the recovery of another ship, the Rio Claro, which had become grounded on the nearby Scott’s Reef.

But the QMMA said the Forceful’s “finest hour” was in February, 1929.

“She assisted towing the stricken steamer Arafura through a cyclone some 300 kilometres to Brisbane,” its website stated.

During World War II, the Forceful was used in harbour work around Darwin.

It towed cargo lighters to Indonesia and rescued aircraft and crewmen after bombing missions, the QMMA website said.

The ship returned to Brisbane in 1943 where, by 1964, it became the last coal-fired tugboat on the river.

Steam-powered tugboats have played an important role throughout Brisbane’s maritime history.(Supplied: State Library of Queensland).

The Forceful was retired in 1970 and the QMMA acquired her in June 1971.

For a further 35 years, the tugboat continued to operate in the Brisbane River, sailing to Moreton Bay.

But by 2006, due to the cost of maintenance, Forceful was kept only as a static display in the river near the museum.

“The ship also has scientific significance because its coal-fired boilers and triple-expansion engine are rare surviving examples of this technology,” the QMMA said on its website.

Museum’s $1m spend

QMMA board chairman Captain Kasper Kuiper said Forceful was a “beautiful old-fashioned ship” that was 37 metres long, 9m wide and 7m tall.

Captain Kuiper said the government required the museum to bring the ship ashore for repairs to make it seaworthy about two years ago.

It was taken to The Yard in Murarrie but Captain Kuiper said the museum association was not able to put the ship back in the river due to flood-risk concerns raised by Maritime Safety Queensland (MSQ).

The association has since attempted to find land where the tug could be displayed but cannot afford the ongoing storage costs, which have already amassed hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Captain Kuiper told ABC Radio Brisbane the association has spent close to $1 million on the tug over the past two decades and the boat was still admired by the community.

“We’ve still got Friends of the Forceful who are very much attached to it,” he said.

“But … the money we spent on the Forceful, we need to urgently spend on the Diamantina … which is also a historic ship, but has not got to the same state as the Forceful.”

Boat poses ‘significant risk’

A Brisbane City Council spokesperson said the QMMA had asked the council for a location to dry dock the ship.

The council has advised the QMMA that there is no council land that is suitable and within a maritime jurisdiction, the spokesperson has said.

Forceful, pictured in the mid-1980s, operated from 1925 to 2006. (Supplied: Queensland Maritime Museum).

MSQ general manager Kell Dillon said the steam tugboat was not in a suitable condition for display in the Brisbane River.

“The vessel would pose a significant risk to downstream infrastructure and maritime safety, particularly during a flood,” he said.

“MSQ has been supporting the QMMA to explore options to display the Forceful ashore, in the interests of preserving Brisbane’s maritime heritage.

“While MSQ has been happy to provide in-kind support for the museum, it is unable to provide further funding.”

Council of Australasian Museum Directors c/o Lynley Crosswell, Museums Victoria, GPO Box 666, Melbourne VIC 3001, © CAMD 2023
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